WANDER along the seafront of a certain lesser-known Spanish resort and you will find a phallic-looking structure bearing a small plaque.

It honours a penniless youth whose writings helped put the town, Almuñecar in Granada province, on the tourist map.

“Laurie Lee? Who he?” Spanish visitors may ask.

But in his native England Lee is a celebrity — and this year the centenary of his birth has been celebrated with special events and the publishing of new editions of his books.

On his last visit to Spain, he reminisced with writer David Baird about his life and loves and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, the vivid account of his trek across Spain in the 1930s.

They talked on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean, near Almuñecar, where more than 50 years earlier a British destroyer had whisked him to safety at the start of the Spanish Civil War.

Over one, two — or, possibly, a few more — glasses of wine, he reminisced about what inspired some of the most lyrical travel writing in the English language.

He had a mischievous, raffish air and, as ever, he was attended by beautiful, adoring women, wife Kathy and daughter Jessy.

Women played a major role in his life, whether in Spain, where he encountered “strange vivid girls . . . with hair like coils of dripping tar and large mouths, red and savage” or when he was weaving his spell around upper-class British lasses, fiddling while they yearned.

His book about growing up in the Cotswolds area of England, Cider With Rosie, is regarded as a classic, adopted as a school textbook.

“I spent a lot of time on a bike looking for girls. Then I realised that poetry was a means I had to declare my love. The important thing about a poem is that it must end strongly, just as a love affair should not peter away but end strongly.”

Born poor and without influential connections, he had little formal education, leaving school at 14.

“I had to find my own lan­guage and tone of life — an immensely pleasurable occupation,” he recalled. “When you go to university, you are inundated with other writers, but I think I was relieved of that pressure. I was not under any influence.”

His reading gave him a taste for what he called “fat-bacon language”, the sort that engraves itself on one’s memory.

His advice to writers: “Use language which doesn’t trip the tongue. If you can’t think of a word, leave a gap. Don’t use a second-class word because you are in a hurry — leave it for a day or so until the word comes.”

Look out over the Mediterranean at dawn and you will find that Laurie’s description still holds true: “The stars snapped shut, vermilion tides ran over the water, the hills around took on the colour of firebrick, and the great sun drew himself at last raw and dripping from the waves . . . “

2 Responses to LAURIE LEE IN SPAIN

  1. Mike Booth says:

    This is a splendid piece, David. What a privilege it must have been to hike up the mountain with Laurie Lee and share a bottle of wine and a chat!

  2. Funny how I get back home from visiting you and my wife has just bought me Lee’s “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,” which you talked to him about, David. Some of his phrases are just brilliant. His description of seeing the sea for the first time – how it “heaved gently like the skin of a frog, and carried drowsy little ships like flies.” At another point he talks about how a secretive traveller kept “a loose verbal hedge around him.” I think that is superb use of the English language. I’m getting a lot out of his book.

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